Nikon D800 12-Month Review (Would I Buy It Again?)

So I’ve been shooting with the D800 for about a year now. At first I was borrowing/renting one for selective shoots, but I pulled the trigger a while back and bought my own. Most of the reviews I read about the D800 were all written within a month of having the camera, so I thought it’d be cool to write one a year later.

NOTE: I wrote a post here a while back about my choice of the D800 over the D800E

Things I Like
Overall, I’m really happy with the D800. The settings are simple to operate and having been a Nikon shooter for many years I don’t have many issues with the menu system, button placement and getting around.

For starters, one of my favorite improvements (over the D3 that I was shooting before) is the auto timer mode. See, the D800 is primarily a nature and landscape camera for me. It’s almost always on a tripod and I’m almost always bracketing with 5 photos (I don’t do HDR with them though, but more on that in another post). With my D3, I had to press the shutter 5 times or always have my cable release with me so I didn’t have to continually touch the camera between photos. But the way the timer works on the D800, I can set it to take 5 photos, two seconds after pressing the shutter. So I just press the shutter once, wait 2 seconds and the camera will fire off the 5 shot bracket automatically. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about having the cable release with me all the time (I usually just carry it for long exposures beyond 30 seconds).

I also love the way the camera feels. I actually like the smaller form factor (compared to the D3 and D4). I do have a battery grip for it, but I usually only use it when I’m shooting portraits since it has the vertical shutter release.

What About File Size?
Another thing I love is also one of the things I hate too – the file size. The 36 megapixel sensor is awesome. The files look amazing on my display. Aside from the obvious advantages of being able to print large, I think there’s more to it. I mean, it’s just plain cool to have that kind of file size and detail available to zoom in to. Let’s face it, if you’re a photographer then you’re a visual person. Aesthetics and visual experiences matter. Even if you’re not printing the photo that large, editing a photo with that kind of detail is just fun and visually stimulating. I may not always print the photo as large as I can, but it’s sure nice knowing that I can.

Another advantage of the large images is that it let’s me shoot a little more “loose” than I normally would, because I know I can crop the photo and still have plenty of resolution to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to get my crop right in camera, but I’m also shooting a lot of wide angle stuff (landscapes, cityscapes, etc…). Images that will need some lens correction in Lightroom/Photoshop. Because the perspective fixes we do to our photos typically means you’re going to lose a lot of the area around the edges of the photo, it’s nice to know I can still use the lens corrections without giving up important parts of the composition.

However, it has wreaked havoc on my storage. If you go out and shoot 200 photos you’re talking about taking up around 10 gigs of space. So I’ve had to buy hard drives a little sooner than I normally would have. It’s also been good at forcing me to delete photos too though. I find myself going through older photo shoots more often and deleting the rejects a little more thoroughly than I normally would have.

Things I Don’t Like
As I just mentioned above, the file size is a little hard to get used to. Not just from a storage space perspective, but they also take longer to edit since you’re waiting on the progress bar more. I find myself doing a “quick” edit where I reduce the image size from 7000 pixels wide to 3000 px and running my filters and plug-ins just to see what I like. It only takes a couple extra minutes and then I’ll go back and edit the full size photo from scratch once I know the direction I want to go. If I had to get through hundreds of photos a day, this would definitely be a slow down in my workflow. But I don’t. I typically walk away with only a few keepers from a landscape shoot, so it doesn’t take me too long to experiment.

Another thing that ticks me off is that the D800 doesn’t have the ability to separate my bracketed photos by two stops. So my only choice is to shoot 5 frames (all separated by 1 stop) and later delete the +1 and -1 photos so I only have the +2 photo, the metered shot, and -2 photo. Other Nikon cameras have this feature, and Canon has had it for years now, so I’m a little annoyed that the D800 doesn’t have it. It seems like it would be such a simple firmware update right? :)

Would I Buy It Again?
There’s the magic question right? Knowing what I know 1 year later, would I buy the D800 again? The answer: most likely. My hesitation lies with knowing that there’s the D600 out there. The D600 is an awesome camera. It’s still got a huge 24 megapixel sensor so you could still print really big. It’s cheaper than the D800 and I think it’s just about every bit as good.

If I were given the choice today though, I’m pretty sure I’d still go with the D800. The only reason is that from time to time, I may need the extra resolution. For starters, I teach and am constantly zooming in to photos to show people certain areas that I’m teaching about. It’s nice to have that extra resolution, so people can see whatever I’m talking about large on a projector screen. I also sell prints now and then, and it’s nice to be able to deliver a very large print should some one need one. But if you’re not teaching and showing large photos on screen and you’re not selling prints, the D600 is a REALLY attractive alternative.

So there ya have it. A 1 year review of the D800. It really is an extraordinary camera. Shooting with it has made me want to go reshoot some of my favorite photos so I can print them even larger. It’s great to edit, and when you see the photos you’ve taken in all of their 36 megapixel glory on your display, it makes you glad you own it.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynn.oakleaf Lynn Oakleaf

    What hardware are you editing with? iMac, MacBook, screen size, how much ram? Etc. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/pcollingridge Paul

    Hi Matt – This is a great post. Will your editing workflow change if you can use SmartPreviews in LR5-Develop rather than working on the full 36MP Raw files? This could be a very significant option for the heavy-hitting hi-res cameras. Even the D600 still delivers a big demand on the LR Develop module – I suspect there will be many D800 users who will import creating SmartPreviews, then disconnect the drive so they get to do the primary edits on something that runs like lightning, then finally reconnect to push the develop onto the original RAW and do some fine-tuning. For many of us hobbyists 36MP would create too many issues.

  • Leigh Perry

    Here’s a trick I used to use on my 600+ megabyte 4×5 film scans. Open as a smart object in Photoshop then immediately change the image size to 2000 x 2500 or similar. Do your editing using adjustment layers as if editing a small file… most Photoshop functions were much faster this way, and scrolling around was much quicker. When done, change image size again back up to original size.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.moulton.7 Bob Moulton

    Matt: have you considered using the Camranger through your IPhone or IPad? Aside from screen size you gain the ability to select bracket size, 1,2,3 etc. and you have other features also , including focus stacking
    Great analysis of the D800. I got mine aboutvthecsame time Nd love it.

  • Marc Jones

    Matt: Do you think the new Smart Preview feature in Lightroom 5 is going to be a game changer, especially for D800 users with those huge file sizes?

  • Jeff Cruz

    Good post. It would have been nice to see comments about the light leaking and the long exposure issues to see if they bothered you as much as me. I personally would get the D800 again but only because there’s nothing else like it out there.

  • Glenn

    Matt. I love my D800, not sure why or how anyone could find issue with it. The large file size is the price you pay for the high resolution, can’t be a surprise to anyone buying it.

    I have a question about your use of the auto timer mode, I must be missing something. The interval timer as I understand the menus requires going through a series of settings each time you use it, eight right cursor clicks and one up to use it each time without changing anything from the time before. Is there a short cut I’m missing that allow for more quickly turning this on and letting it do its thing? I just use the 2 second exposure delay (d4) for my tripod shots.

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hi Glenn – It’s not the interval timer, but the Auto Timer that I was referring to. You can not only set the Auto Timer delay, but also the number of photos it takes in succession. So if you have a 5 shot bracket set up, and you set auto timer to 5 photos, it’ll do it for you. Thanks!

      • Glenn

        Thanks Matt. I suppose I knew that was there and just didn’t think to use it. I will now, thanks for the clarification.

  • JayM

    Hey Matt

    Coming back from a 10-day vacation with a couple thousand shots off a D700 makes me cringe thinking of the D800. However, that trip reinforced a couple of things:

    1) I still badly want that body, but limited to specialty work (ex. landscapes) as you describe. This will mitigate the file size, storage, and processing bottlenecks from such a massive sensor (personally, I would have preferred to see that monster reserved for a future D4x, with the D600′s 24MP chip in the D800 body plus more shooting speed – but that’s just me).

    2) I am sold on the new system cameras that still maintain large (ie. minimum APS-C) chips. For travel and general use these will be much more preferable to lugging around a full-frame DSLR and lens. The D700 and 24-120 f/4 really stand out now and call so much attention to the shooter. That gun-crack of a shutter release doesn’t help matters. Still struggling with what direction I want to go here.

    PS. For timed auto-bracket on your D3 can you not use the intervalometer? I use this regularly with the D700 in the absence of a cable release. Just set your bracket, select continuous drive, and then run a single interval. Cracks off the complete set and works beautifully (although not as elegant as the D800 appears to be as you need to go through the menus).

    • Mike

      Jay, the D800 can also shoot in 20.3MP or 9MP (medium and small photo size, respectively), which is recommended for most usage scenarios and easier to deal with when editing. The 36.2MP is recommended for high res landscapes and group portraits, which Matt shoots. There are also other framing aspects FX/DX/5:4/1.2x, but I’m not sure if, or how much, that effects storage size.

  • http://www.quiettime.org/ Catherine Martin

    I love this post – thank you for taking the time to give your likes and dislikes. I really have had my eye on the D800. This is very helpful. Have looked at the D600 but if I can only have one, I’m still thinking the D800.

  • John Farinelli

    I’ve also had a D800 for a little more than a year, with previous cameras being the D700 and D300. Thanks for the auto-timer tip, I had not discovered that yet. (Typically I set the camera for 5-shots, continuous-high, then press and hold the cable release – and I get 5 quick shots). In addition to some landscape photography, I very much love portrait and event work. I’ve found that the forgiveness you get from the extra mp is well worth the extra size. (16GB of memory and a fast pc does the rest) The biggest disadvantage I see is the frame rate ( but then again, I’m still wishing for a single camera that can do it all, and for an affordable price :) ).

  • http://twitter.com/byoregon Bill Young

    Nice writeup Matt. Thanks for doing it. I got my D800 last Fall (after our Tetons photo workshop), and immediately realized how inadequate my old iMac with 4GB RAM was. While researching what machine I should replace it with, I constantly ran across comments with the phrase “needed a new computer for my D800 files”. I think Apple, HP, Dell, etc owe Nikon a big thank you. I find myself viewing my new $2700 iMac as an “accessory” to the D800! ;-)

    • Sourabh Sharma

      NOOO Dont buy a new computer. it’s a waste of money. max out the memory in your computer

  • http://lavapix.com/ Bryan Lowry / lavapix.com

    One year for me too and I would buy it again. Love the large detailed files. The 40×60 print on metal in my place I look at everyday reminds me how much I like it. Its an easy camera to work with. Simply a great camera.

  • http://twitter.com/imaginemystrobe Plamen Panchev

    Thanks for sharing Matty

  • fabhatti

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Nikon D800.

    I would pretty much agree with all that you wrote but would like your viewers to rethink about purchasing a D600. I had one .. and I loved the images I got from the D600 till the dust issue became too much of a chore. It had to be cleaned every week and on my last attempt, I had a bit of an accident and damaged the sensor. I have previously owned a D70, D300, D7000 and D700. Whereas none of these required any extra effort as far as cleaning the sensor is concerned, the D600 certainly had a major issue with it. Anyway, I sold my D600 and as much as I wanted to buy another D600 for its image quality and lower price, the fact that Nikon has now acknowledged the issue and has practically done nothing about it, made me go for the D800.

    So while you would be happy to buy another D800, I cant say the same about the D600.

    • JimAbels

      In the same boat with the D600 dust problem. When I get it back from Nikon, I plan on getting the D800. There are many usable upgrades on the D800 over the D600. I could use the wider focus point spread, faster af in low light, better grip for by big hands, pc socket and 16mp 1.5x crop files for telephoto nature shots. Having the 1/8000th shutter and 250th sync better for beach shoots. The 24mp images from the D600 are stellar however and it is lighter to carry. I see factory refurbished D800 units with 6 month warranty for $2349.99 tax free and free shipping.

  • Corey Solotorovsky

    I would agree with the earlier post. I am reading your post because I am researching the 800. I am selling my D600 at a loss because of the sensor spots. I bought the 600 in November and it started to develop very noticeable spots in landscape shots by January. By February, it was terrible and I sent it to Nikon. They had it for “5 weeks” to replace the shutter. Within 2 weeks of getting it back, spots started to appear again. Nikon’s only answer was ship it back so they can “return it to Nikon quality standards”. I have no idea what that means if the product came like that, and was returned from Nikon with these issues. The 600 has great color rendition and I like everything else about it. Between the recurring issue and Nikon’s laissez faire response, it’s gone. So, interested in the 800.

  • David

    Hi Matt, Interesting post, I have a D200 and thinking about going for the D600 – what lens would you recommend to go with it for primarily landscapes. I have currently have a Nikon 17-55mm DX and 70-200mm. Considering the 16-35mm or standard 24-85mm – I can’t afford both. which one do you think would be the one to go for first? I know you’re a busy guy but would appreciate your advice.

    • DB Cooper

      Do what many pros do..get an older Micro Nikkor Ais 55mm or AFd 60mm used for less than $200 each on ebay and manual focus on a good tripod w/mirror lockup/timer. The viewfinder has a focus dot, or use live view zoomed in with a hood loupe. The glass is almost as good as Zeiss for a fraction of cost (and takes really good macro shots as a bonus on rainy days).

      (just watch, some forum-photographer who never used/owned it just googled this will come on and say, ‘dont buy that 55 it has oily blades!)

      • David

        Thanks – just bought the D610 and the 18-35mm lens as recommended by Matt in another post, and the deal I got also came with a free 50mm F1.8 lens :-)

  • Shaw T Chen

    I enjoy reading your review. I hope you can help with some problem I have with my D800 when shooting indoor without flash. The auto iso will go to the maximum setting of 6400 with slow shutter speed (e,g, 1/15). With auto WB, the pictures will look too warm (yellowish) and out of focus (or too noisy?). I don’t remember I have so much touble with my old D300. Thanks much.
    - Shaw C.

    • kitakits

      Your Aperture is to wide.. I bring it down to lets say an f10 or high f number. It looks orange or its warm because it is capturing the nearest light source which I bet is close to the orange warmth you are talking about.

    • Sourabh Sharma

      you are using auto wb. you need to reduce it if it is to yellow on manual wb or “k mode”. also use a flash in indoors. the d800 isnt a camera to use at a low speed unless you are doing it on purpose. You should learn manual im sure you would be a good photographer and have a broader knowledge

  • sam

    Complains about the file size….give me a break. Be glad you don’t shoot MF.

  • dr.omadidae@gmail.com

    Hi Matt, interesting post to read someone’s thoughts on a camera after the honeymoon period….

    I really like the d800 and have started using it for my work as a science illustrator.

    However I am new some of the tech aspects of all this. I have 2 Lexar Professional 600x 64gb SDXC UHS-I 90Mb/s memory chips, each now with about 4000+ photos on them (birds, plants and lizards from New Caledonia). I am not sure what card reader to buy to go with these memory cards and my mac os x 10.5.8 computer. I have attached the camera a couple of times now, with the cable, to the computer, but it takes 4 or 5 hours to even get 1000+ photos imported….and even then they only go as far as either an “iphoto recovery file” or else into the iphoto library but not the iphoto page itself.

    I live in the middle east….shops here will sell you anything, but there is not a lot of useful tech. knowledge attached to their sales talk.

    Any advice?
    Cheers,

    • Sourabh Sharma

      The file size is HUGE it will take that long for your computer because im guessing it is a bit old and the processing speed on it is kinda slow. Dont run out and buy windows because Macs are the best btw

  • Fighter78

    Hey
    iam confused about buying the nikon D800 or the Canon 5D Mark III as iam using it for weeding photography and portrait any advice ?

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hi. That’s a tough one. The file size and quality of the D800 are awesome. You can shoot more loose, and still have enough file size to crop in and get your compositions without losing any print size. If you’re shooting a lot of photos you’re going to fill memory cards and storage space FAST. Low light on the D800 is pretty good.
      The 5D Mark III is also awesome. But smaller file sizes. I like the Canon 5D III as a camera better though. I’ve found it easier to use and maneuver around quickly, even after shooting Nikon for many years.
      I guess the real choice is Canon or Nikon? Which are you invested in? Nikon has the D610 which is pretty close to the 5D3 if you already own Nikon stuff. It’s a tough call and I’m probably not helping you much am I? ;-)

      • Fighter78

        You did help but iam not gonna use it for videos i hope and the D610 is kinda crapy vs the D800 the file size is not an issue i can use DNG from adobe or even get a bigger SD but what is shaking me about this camera is the it’s sharpness i can see it’s sharper than the canon even than the D610 that won’t be an issue during photography , weeding etc or will it be + The AA Filter i’ve read a ton of papers talking about it how they will double it or remove it in the D800E so what is your final opinion discarding the file size i’ve been using canon 650D it’s great but not that great Vs the 2 of them and the AF points will it be a problem or only in sports /?
        Sorry for taking your time .

        • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

          Interesting what you heard on the D610. From what I know the D610 is actually a better camera then the D800. File size is still a whopping 24mp which is huge.
          As for sharpness, the D800 is no more sharper or less sharp then any other camera out there. They’re all sharp. They wouldn’t hit the market if they were. Honestly, it’s more about lenses than anything.

    • Mike

      You and I are in a similar boat and I’m not heavily invested in either lens. I was even considering the Sony (even the 4K Handycam that’s coming out in March, which takes amazing stills).

      If you haven’t, it may be worth watching Dave Dugdale’s video review (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuozUxh_tOU). In the end, he went with Canon. Having seen what the 5DM2 can do, I’m sure the 5DM3 is just as nice and great for photography. In the end, all photos will probably need touchup editing (and you can probably produce the same images quickly after setting up adjustment macros).

      As a wedding photographer, I think you might be interested in two points Dave made in favor of the Canon. 1) he noted it was better indoors, especially with various lightings to easily set white balance (I’m not sure if that issue has been fixed with the d800 but I know it has been a problem) 2) with regards to the continuos shooting mode, it seems the Nikon took 2minutes once it maxed; as a wedding photographer you might find yourself taking some of those when throwing the bouquet or during dance shots — a 2 minute delay may be a killer. That said, it took something like 4secs/16photos of continuos shooting, which you might not ever do.

      I actually like Ken Rockwell’s comparison sheet: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/comparisons/2012-04-dslrs.htm, I’m a beginning photographer, but have read/seen A LOT and this matches mostly everything I’ve come across. With these two cameras, it really seems as though they’re comparable and at this point, the quality of the photos really comes down to the photographer, rather than the equipment.

    • Sourabh Sharma

      Buy a D800 if you want warmer colors, faster focus speed, and just amazingness orrrr buy the canon if you want better colder colors (which do look great for weddings) and video and decent focus speed